With five days left until the start of the new season, at least some of the television schedule still seems to be in a state of flux. The Football Conference is reported to still be in negotiation with a broadcaster (rumoured to be Eurosport) regarding a package that is said to be worth £70,000 per club, although Blue Square North and South clubs are now likely to be missing out on the £15,000 that they had been receiving from Setanta. More significant, however, is the final unveiling of the coverage that the BBC will be giving The Football League, as they take over from ITV as the secondary broadcasters of the world’s oldest league competition.
The BBC has already confirmed that they will be showing ten live matches this season, starting with the match between West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United this Saturday. They have also confirmed a further three matches to be shown live – Ipswich Town vs Newcastle United on the 26th September, Derby County vs Queens Park Rangers on the 24th October and Cardiff City vs Nottingham Forest on Sunday 1st November. The remainder of their live matches will be confirmed later on this year. A small problem for the BBC is that they remain very much the junior partners in the live coverage of Football League matches in comparison with Sky Sports, who will show eighty live matches over the course of this season and all of the play-off matches. but any live club football on free-to-air television is a welcome development.
More important on a week-by-week basis will be the BBC’s highlights of matches from The Football League, and details of this were finally confirmed last week. A new programme, “The Football League Show”, will start on Saturday night, and will follow “Match Of The Day” for the rest of the season, starting at 11.40 in the evening. For those that aren’t able or willing to stay up that late, the show will also be available for seven days after this on the BBC Red Button and through I-Player. The show will be presented by Manish Bhasin (seen last season on “Football Focus”), with the former Leicester City (and almost everybody else in the League) striker Steve Claridge as the guest analyst. Claridge, with his work on BBC Radio 5, occasional television work and weekly column in The Guardian has shown himself be a reasonably able summariser, and this should, in theory at least, be his chosen specialist subject. The show is likely to show extended highlights of one match and goals from the rest of The Football League.
In addition to this, The Football League Cup will also be transferring to the BBC, although they will again be sharing their coverage with Sky. They will be showing a highlights programme for each round (the first one, featuring Macclesfield Town vs Leicester City, airs next Wednesday, the 12th August), as well as one leg from each semi-final and the final live. With the FA Cup being shown live on ITV again this season, this is a welcome opportunity for the BBC to flex its muscle in sports broadcasting, and those that recall their FA Cup coverage until 2007 will be quietly optimistic that they will be able to raise the profile of a competition that has been described as “ailing” for longer than many care to remember.
Some other details of what we will be able to see have been available as well. ESPN’s Premier League coverage will be for forty-six matches this season, and will be priced at between £9 and £12 per month depending on which platform one purchases it through. It seems likely, therefore, that ESPN will be accepting Premier League football as a loss leader in order to get a foot in the UK cable television market. The majority of Setanta subscribers were either people without Sky Sports and who didn’t want Sky Sport or completists who wanted the extra Premier League football as well as SPL, FA Cup, European, England and BSP matches. The Setanta model offered this, but as things stand ESPN hasn’t secured any British television rights yet beyond the Premier League and 60 SPL matches, although they have slso purchased rights to matches from the German, Russian, Portuguese and Dutch leagues. Nothing has yet been confirmed regarding the FA Cup or England deals that were held by Setanta last season.
The upshot of all this (and we haven’t even started on the different options that one has if one wants to subscribe to ESPN) is that it will all be even more bewildering than it ever has been if one wants to watch football on the televison than it ever has been before. The idea starts to form that, for the armchair fan, it might be easier just to go and watch their local team play instead. It’s a crazy idea, but it might just work.